Reprinted from Consortium News
A senior United Nations official has accused Ukraine's SBU intelligence service of frustrating U.N. investigations into its alleged role in torture and other war crimes, even as the SBU has been allowed to guide the international investigation into the shooting down of Malaysia Airline Flight 17 for nearly two years.
On June 29, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic criticized various "armed groups" in Ukraine for engaging in torture and arbitrary detention, adding that "The Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) is also not always providing access to all places where detainees may be kept. " OHCHR (the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights) also continues to receive accounts about torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the SBU, especially in the conflict zone.
"Torture and threats to members of the families, including sexual threats, are never justifiable, and perpetrators will be held to account sooner or later. ... War crimes, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of human rights cannot be the subject of an amnesty."
In late May, U.N. inspectors called off their Ukraine torture investigation because the SBU denied the team access to detention facilities where human rights groups had found evidence of torture.
"This denial of access is in breach of Ukraine's obligations as a State party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture," according to the U.N. statement at the time. Sir Malcolm Evans, head of the four-member U.N. delegation, said: "It has meant that we have not been able to visit some places where we have heard numerous and serious allegations that people have been detained and where torture or ill-treatment may have occurred."
Yet, the SBU, which is also responsible for protecting state secrets, has strongly influenced the direction of the supposedly Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team trying to determine who was responsible for shooting down MH-17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing 298 people.
Conflict of Interest
Although Ukrainian military units are among the logical suspects in the case, Ukraine was made one of five countries responsible for the inquiry and granted what amounts to veto power over what information the JIT can release. A recent internal report on how the JIT operates also revealed how dependent the investigators have become on information provided by the SBU.
According to the report, the SBU has helped shape the MH-17 investigation by supplying a selection of phone intercepts and other material that would presumably not include sensitive secrets that would implicate the SBU's political overseers in Ukraine. But the JIT report seems oblivious to this conflict of interest, saying:
"Since the first week of September 2014, investigating officers from The Netherlands and Australia have worked here [in Kiev]. They work in close cooperation here with the Security and Investigation Service of the Ukraine (SBU). Immediately after the crash, the SBU provided access to large numbers of tapped telephone conversations and other data. "
"At first rather formal, cooperation with the SBU became more and more flexible. 'In particular because of the data analysis, we were able to prove our added value', says [Dutch police official Gert] Van Doorn. 'Since then, we notice in all kinds of ways that they deal with us in an open way. They share their questions with us and think along as much as they can.'"
The JIT report continued: "With the tapped telephone conversations from SBU, there are millions of printed lines with metadata, for example, about the cell tower used, the duration of the call and the corresponding telephone numbers. The investigating officers sort out this data and connect it to validate the reliability of the material.
"When, for example, person A calls person B, it must be possible to also find this conversation on the line from person B to person A. When somebody mentions a location, that should also correlate with the cell tower location that picked up the signal. If these cross-checks do not tally, then further research is necessary.
"By now, the investigators are certain about the reliability of the material. 'After intensive investigation, the material seems to be very sound,' says Van Doorn, 'that also contributed to the mutual trust.'"